If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know I’m a voracious book reader. I read every day. Every one. Without fail. It’s my Netflix, my favorite snack, my guilty pleasure. Typically it’s the first thing I do when I wake up and the last thing I do before going to bed. And, during a lunch break, you’ll usually find my on my deck or in my favorite chair with a book in hand. Outside of my faith and primary relationships, I’ve been largely shaped by the books I’ve read.
Since I’m often asked for book recommendations, here’s the list of books I’ve read this year so far. My top ten are listed first, with brief explanations why I enjoyed them so much. The remaining thirty plus are listed in no particular order, and you’ll have to do your own homework on those. Some I loved, some I didn’t. And a few I didn’t bother to list here at all.
A couple notes: First, I have wildly varied taste. You’ll see everything from classics, theological explorations and business books to mythical tales, historical romances and irreverent humor writing. And everything in between. I love books that make me think and books that help me travel. But make no mistake: the writing must be good. Second, a few of these books contain content you may not approve of. I trust you are adult enough to make those decisions for yourself. For me, I believe you can learn something from just about anyone. If I censor everything and everyone I disagree with, sooner or later I’ll be alone and with nothing to read.
Anyhoo, enough talking; let’s read. Here is my 2019 Book List, Part 1. As for Part 2? You’ll have to wait until January 2020 for that one. But this should keep you busy until then (NOTE: This list contains affiliate links. To read my full disclosure, click here):
My 2019 Top 10 Books (thus far):
- The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton (historical fiction): Over the past two years, Kate Morton has become one of my favorite novelists. Part of the reason for this is our shared love of England, Cornwall and its history in particular. This novel was different than some of the others I’ve read of hers, but was no less captivating. Her unique story lines, threads of mystery, interesting characters, and complex situations make for a great read. And, as always, I love a story with a solid historical element, which this one has.
- The Great Divorce, by C. S. Lewis (spiritual allegorical fiction): A tiny tome, this one took me two days to read. It sat on my shelf for a couple years, and I kept meaning to pick it up. This summer I finally did. And I was not disappointed. And, I should add, right after reading this one, I jumped with two feet into another of C.S. Lewis’ classic works, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold (fiction). I loved that one just as much.
- A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towels (fiction): Without question, this is one of my top 10 novels of all time. And I’ve read a lot of novels. Towels’ writing was exquisite, his characterizations brilliant. Rarely do I laugh out loud and cry while reading a novel, but Towels’ succeeded in doing both multiple times. Not only did I received a solid Russian history education, I entered into the story of Count Alexander Rostov fully. Initially, I read the book on my Amazon Kindle. But, once finished, I spent a whopping $30 on the hard-cover copy at an indy bookstore in Truckee, CA for my shelf. Yes, I bought the novel even after I finished reading it. That’s how much I loved it.
- Dare to Lead: Brave work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts., by Brene Brown (leadership non-fiction): The name “Brene Brown” has become so commonplace in contemporary American circles these days that I keep expecting her books to become less content-rich and compelling. The opposite is proving to be true. Dare To Lead was perhaps my favorite of all her books, second only to The Gifts of Imperfection. I’ve read large sections multiple times and have used her well-researched content with my team and others I lead. It will continue to be a staple resource on my shelf.
- Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, by Henri J. M. Nouwen (spiritual non-fiction): Originally written as a series of letters to a spiritually searching friend, Life of the Beloved is personal, honest, and absent heady theological language. It’s one of the most accessible discussions of what it means to live a spiritual life, even if the reader is only minimally familiar with Christian language or practice. I originally read this book via Audible, where Nouwen himself reads his words. Then I turned to the soft-cover copy I had sitting on my shelf so I could mark, dog-ear and highlight the parts that most resonated with me. It should not be surprising that my copy is now a highlighted, dog-eared mess.
- Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed, by Lori Gottleib (memoir): I’m a memoirist. Which makes me, at times, a fairly picky memoir reader. It takes a lot to impress me. And yet, this lovely, witty, honest telling of Lori’s story is one of my favorites this year. I listened to it on Audible while sitting in my dining room doing a puzzle (of all things). But perhaps that is the very best medium for reading her work, for she skillfully shared both the pieces of her story as a therapist AND the pieces of her story as a patient. And she did so with care, compassion, and not a little bit of sharp humor. I laughed, I cried, and I didn’t want it to end. And that’s pretty much what I wish every reader of my books said.
- Radical Candor: How to Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, by Kim Scott (business, leadership non-fiction): Written by a former executive at Google and Apple, Radical Candor finally gave me a solid framework for learning how to engage in direct, honest feedback and conflict with my team and other colleagues without losing my commitment to kindness, compassion, and sincere care for them as humans. I’ve long erred on the side of holding back feedback to preserve feelings. I am learning—the hard way—that sparing another’s feelings s more about MY comfort, not theirs. And both of us lose with my lack of candor.
- The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus, by Brennan Manning (spiritual non-fiction): This became one of my many ultra-highlighted books that I will return to again and again. I should not be surprised; it is Brennan Manning, after all. I’m fairly new to my love of Manning’s writing. While so many others have long admired his insights and work, I missed the bus until about 2 years ago. But I’m so glad I finally found another voice to guide my spiritual journey. This is what I love about Brennan: He’s honest, painfully so. He owns his vanity, his ego, his desire for approval, the ease with which he slips into spiritual superiority. And at the end of each confession, he returns to the truth that saves him over and over again: His Abba loves him. Without fail. Without end. His wonder of that fact has sparked my own.
- Next Year in Havana, by Chanel Cleeton (historical fiction): This novel surprised me. In fact, I’m not even sure why I picked it up. From the beginning, I wasn’t expecting much, maybe because I’d never heard of the author before and because I wasn’t all that interested in Cuban history. I was greatly mistaken. Having grown up with only the most basic knowledge of the Cuban revolution and America’s involvement, I had no idea the full scope of this complex situation. Although the story is pure fiction, the historical elements kept leading me to long Internet searches into Cuban history. Let’s just say it was time well spent. Add to that the colorful characters, action and tension, and a dash of romance, and I was hooked. I’m already reading the sequel.
- The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. (non-fiction): This one is a beast, and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s hard to overstate the value of this tome, as it functions like a medical-psychiatry textbook for the average person dealing with the fallout of trauma. I originally picked it up as a reference while parenting my youngest three kids (who have a history of severe early childhood abuse/neglect). Little did I know when I started it how much I would need it. As it turns out, serious medical trauma can do a number on a grown adult, too. It took me quite some time to read this one, and I still go back to pertinent chapters and pages and paragraphs on a regular basis. It’s not an easy read, but it’s a necessary and rich one. And it will stay on my shelf indefinitely.
The Rest of my 2019 Reading List:
- A Sparrow in Terezin, by Kristy Cambron (historical fiction)
- Irresistible: Reclaiming the New That Jesus Unleashed for the World, by Andy Stanley (religious non-fiction)
- Dead Sea Rising, by Jerry B. Jenkins (historical fiction)
- Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate (fiction)
- Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover (memoir)
- Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee (fiction, a National Book Award Finalist)
- The Pilgrim’s Progress, by Paul Bunyan (Christian literature fiction)
- Am American Marriage, by Tayari Jones (fiction)
- Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple (fiction)
- Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson (fiction)
- Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport (business non-fiction)
- Making Sense of God, by Timothy Keller (non-fiction)
- Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens (historical fiction)
- The Advantage, by Patrick Lencioni (business, leadership non-fiction)
- The Obstacle is the Way, by Ryan Holiday (leadership non-fiction)
- The Pastor: A Memoir, by Eugene Peterson (memoir)
- How We Love, by Milan & Kay Yerkovich (self-help non-fiction)
- Together Forever (Orphan Train Series), by Jody Hedlund (Christian fiction)
- The Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly (historical fiction)
- We Were the Lucky Ones, by Georgia Hunter (historical fiction)
- Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging, by Brennan Manning (religious non-fiction, NOTE: this was my 3rd time reading it)
- The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, by David G. Benner (spiritual non-fiction)
- Yes, Please, by Amy Poehler (memoir)
- The Meaning of Marriage, by Timothy Keller (non-fiction)
- The Magic Hour, by Kristin Hannah (fiction)
- Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, by Richard Foster (non-fiction)
- The Screwtape Letters: Annotated Edition, by C. S. Lewis (fiction)
- When We Left Cuba, by Chanel Cleeton (historical fiction)
SPEAKING OF BOOKS, a big announcement is coming next week! Make sure you’re subscribed here to get updates. I can not wait!